a chat with Holly Chayes

Earlier this week, I chatted by email with artist and designer Holly Chayes. She’s published the Shawl Geometry Books which explain the maths of knitted shawl shape construction for people who are nervous about formulas and equations. Late last month, Holly also successfully completed a very ambitious project, the self-made wardrobe project. Let’s get to the conversation so I can let Holly tell you more about both projects.

little acorn:
Why do you do what you do?
Holly:
I think almost everything I do can be traced back to a desire for non-trivial beauty, and an insatiable curiosity.

I just finished a handmade wardrobe project that I called, the self-made wardrobe project and it was a project where I wore 100% made-by-me clothing for a year. That was entirely motivated by a desire to explore the place where my wardrobe, my craft, and myself meet. I wanted to ask questions like, “why do I make what I make? and why do I wear what I wear? – and how do I & my sense of style fit into that?” (Plus I kind of just wanted to see if I could do it.)

The large project I did just before the self-made wardrobe was combining and writing the Shawl Geometry Books, which are all about the math and geometry of shaping shawls, but specifically for non-mathy people.

Eirwen (an individual shawl pattern, based on a pi circular shawl shape from Shawl Geometry 1)

Eirwen (an individual shawl pattern, based on a pi circular shawl shape from Shawl Geometry 1)

That project started as a series of swatches for myself, so that I could better understand the relationships between different shawl shapes. I’ve been knitting shawls for years, and I knew about many shapes, but didn’t have all of that information in one place for easy reference – it was all stored in my brain, and stuff gets lost up there all the time.

Since I was already doing the work to compile all this information, I figured I might as well share it. That prompted the blog series, which prompted the books.

little acorn:
I’ve been inspired by both of these large projects. While I love maths, I love how you’ve taken all the various shapes, explained how the relate to each other, and made the maths approachable.
In general, what do you wish people took away from your work?
Holly:
I hope people take away a broadened sense of what’s possible in either knitting or their wardrobes. I think it’s easy to see something and immediately think “I couldn’t do that” when in fact most impossible things are quite doable (maybe even before breakfast), they just sometimes take teeny tiny steps and a pinch of bullheaded stubbornness to get there.
Tumbling Deco (an individual pattern and an 8 wedge crescent shaped shawl from Shawl Geometry 1, if you just want the basic wedge crescent, or Shawl Geometry 2, if you want to explore more wedge crescent shaped shawls)

Tumbling Deco (an individual pattern and an 8 wedge crescent shaped shawl from Shawl Geometry 1, if you just want the basic wedge crescent, or Shawl Geometry 2, if you want to explore more wedge crescent shaped shawls)

little acorn:
I think this is a good philosophy for life in general!
When not knitting or sewing, you can be found…
Holly:
Usually getting distracted by the internet.
little acorn:
🙂 Not alone!
Can you tell me a little bit about your process?
Holly:
My favorite parts come at the beginning and the end of the making process. I love figuring out how I’m going to do what I want to do, and troubleshooting all the problems. And I also love the thrill of seeing the pieces finally come together.
The middle “making” part gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction, but it’s a different sort of satisfaction. I make because I am a maker – sort of the same reason I breathe because I am alive. Actively making something gives me the sort of satisfaction that comes from engaging in a deliberate practice, while the beginnings that limitless possibilities, and endings are when what was once and idea becomes reality.
Day 318 of the self-made wardrobe. This was the day I introduced the final piece I made for the project (grey maxi skirt). 

Day 318 of the self-made wardrobe. This was the day I introduced the final piece I made for the project (grey maxi skirt). 

little acorn:
Yes!
Ok, I ask everyone this. Kitten or puppy snuggles?
Holly:
Haha! Either please – I love the adoration and full bodied joy of puppy snuggles, but I always feel honored (and slightly superior) when a kitten wants to snuggle.

Thank you Holly for taking the time to talk with me! Here are some easy-to-find links to Holly’s projects:

the Shawl Geometry Books – perfect for non-mathy people who are interested in shawl shaping.

The self-made wardrobe, now that the project is concluded, Holly has written up a few thoughts on the past year: